02-05-2018 – Laurie Southern
The Current State Of British GT
Events

Disclaimer: here comes a story in which an automotive journalist waxes lyrical about how ‘things were better back in the day’. An entire article dedicated to informing readers that the current state of the British GT is not a good one.

Only joking. You know I’m not like that. Much.

I’ve been following the British GT for a good number of years, and like many, have had inescapable feelings of doubt over whether or not it’s been heading in the right direction. It was more exciting last year. The cars were more interesting the year before. The racing was closer the year prior to that. You get the idea. I pondered what this year’s qualm would be on the way to the circuit that morning. Upon arriving, however, all of those worries seemingly slipped away. I’ll talk more on that later, but what definitely hadn’t slipped away was the bad weather.

It was wet. Very wet. In all my years visiting Oulton Park, I’ve never once seen it muddy. Another pair of trainers claimed by inclement weather. Will this winter ever end?

Still, not even the rain could dampen my excitement for the British GT circus rolling into town. You can visit a race track as much as you like, but when a premier class weekend comes along it’s a totally different experience. I’m still a young’un really, but I know for a fact that feeling will never wear off.

Split into two classes, namely GT3 and the slightly more tame GT4, the current set of regulations in the championship have sculpted one of the most exciting lineups of cars and drivers a national series has ever seen. Fact. The variety has run a little stale over the past, dare I say it – decade? Uninteresting grids had driven many spectators to stay at home. Oh how that has changed.

The cars that had me the most excited were the two GT86 from Steller Motorsport competing in the GT4 class. Toyota’s latest Hachiroku has been a staple in the British GT paddock for a good few years now but for one reason or another has always eluded me. I’m certain they haven’t made a round at Oulton Park yet, but I’m probably just not as adept at seeking out certain pit garages as I should be. What makes these cars even more exciting is that they’re driven by such young talent. One of said drivers is 16 year old Tom Canning, the youngest to ever race in the series.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to admit that a battle-scarred race car looks infinitely better than a showroom fresh race car. I’d also wager that I’m not alone in loving that misplaced duct in front of the wheel. It’s a tiny bit of Khyzyl Saleem right here in real life.

The relatively light modifications made to a car for it to comply with GT4 regulations ensures that it’s as close to road spec as it can be. It’s a recipe for punters to fall in love with a car even more. True what they say after all; race on Sunday, sell on Monday. The GT86 looks right at home charging through the forests of Little Budworth. It’s almost Nurburgring-esque, don’t you think?

I’ll always appreciate Japanese cars being used for a purpose like this.  In a world where they’re so heavily associated with drifting, it’s great to see manufacturers getting on board with a more grip-focused discipline. The GT3 circuit has made good use of the current gen Nissan GTR for many years now, and it’s still my favourite hands down.

You have to admire the pride these guys take in their work, too. I couldn’t help but stand and watch Team RJN giving the car a wash after race one. And that rear end

The front of the car doesn’t shape up too badly either. I’ve eaten my dinner off of smaller surfaces than that splitter.

They weren’t the only ones giving the machinery a once over, either. I guess when your wheels are covered in that much brake dust and general British winter grime that you can no longer see the tyre sponsor lettering, you need to do something about it to keep everybody happy. It quickly turns into a group effort.

Or maybe it’s a weight thing? It’s hard to believe that dirt can add any significant weight when it comes to keeping wheels balanced, but I could be wrong. When you’re operating at this level every gram of weight saved counts towards keeping an edge over the competition, so it’s entirely possible that there’s a genuine reason for keeping everything clean. Let me know in the comments if you can give me the official verdict!

With cleaning mentioned it’s only fair that I share some details of this car with you. The number 116 Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Yelmer Buurman is the perfect example of a modern day GT3 car. It looks even better when it’s filthy.

Centre-locking wheels (that are probably lighter than the gear knob of my own car), brakes that barely fit, a monstrous engine note and more aero than you can shake a metaphorical stick at. Wrap it in a beautiful livery and what more could you possibly ask for?

The age range gathering around the car speaks volumes. It’s difficult to be in such close proximity of a machine like this and not feel something.

I think that’s part of the appeal here, too. There’s few series that let you get so up close and personal with the cars at the moment. The paddock area is open to the public throughout the entirety of the day, with lots of teams even inviting excited children to have a look around the cars. By excited children, I mostly mean full grown adults. The queue for the lunchtime pit walk was longer than I’ve seen it for a long time too. We all know the British love a queue, but it was heartwarming to see public interest returning to the sport.

Firm favourites by a mile were the guys from the Invictus Games Racing team. With a driver lineup comprising wholly of current or past Army, Navy or RAF servicemen, I’m sure motorsport is a totally different shot of adrenaline entirely. They were all too happy to chat about all things car related or not, and I really admired their enthusiasm. More of this please. Not to mention the fact that their two brand-new Jaguar F-Type SVR GT4 cars looked and sounded like a thunderstorm.

It helps when your team colours match the official event posters too. Coincidence?

The short-lived pit walk subsided as the afternoon got underway. Weather was delaying things slightly throughout the day, and I’m not even slightly surprised. Despite the lack of sun (or dry ground), each and every driver on the grid gave 100% all day long. British GT really is open to anyone at this stage, and drivers are aware there’s everything to play for. A lack of a dry line made for some interesting overtakes once the quicker GT3 class began to hit slower traffic.

Unfortunately just a short while into the second and final race of the day, the standing water on track just became too great and the safety car came out. That then led to a race suspension, and eventually the rest of the day was called off. And you know what? I’m absolutely okay with that decision. I’d seen enough already to spark my excitement for the year ahead. My love for the series has returned and I know for certain I’m not alone with that. Besides, Oulton Park is notorious in the wet.

I’ll leave you with this video from the FIA GT1-spec days and a spectacular pile up down at Knickerbrook. Questionable race director decisions aside, I’m happy for this not to take place ever again.

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